Nishijin Brocade: Beautiful Textiles Born in Kyoto

What is Jidai Festival?Heian Jingu Shrine "Otenmon" (Front gate)

The end of October has approached and the weather has become cooler. Trees are beginning to change color and little by little,  Kyoto city is changing into an autumn atmosphere. Last year, the streets were deserted due to COVID-19, but this year they are crowded with tourists. There are many events held during the season of autumn, but have you heard about the big festival held on October 22 in Kyoto? It is Jidai Festival. “Jidai” means “age", "period ” and "era" in Japanese. The festival was cancelled due to COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021, but Jidai Festival is said to be one of the three major festivals in Kyoto, along with the Aoi Festival in May and the Gion Festival in July. The Jidai Festival started in 1895 as an event to celebrate the founding of Heian Jingu Shrine and the 1100th anniversary of the relocation of the capital to Heiankyo*. It was also the year that the 4th National Industrial Exhibition was held in Kyoto. The exposition was a success, and on the last day of the exposition, a period customs parade was held. This was the beginning of the current Jidai Festival. 

*Heiankyo (Kyoto) was the capital from 794 to 1869.

Kyoto Handicraft Center is located on the north side of Heian Jingu Shrine, a five-minute walk from there. Therefore, we can see the procession of the Jidai Festival every year. There is also The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto and Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art near the Heian Jingu Shrine. This area, called Okazaki area, is the place which combines the history and art of Kyoto.

Heian Jingu Shrine is the goal point of the Jidai Festival procession. The procession leaves from the Kyoto Imperial Palace and walks about 4~5 km through Kyoto City for about three hours. The procession is about 2 km long and consists of approximately 2000 people. 

The procession of the Jidai Festival is structured to go back from Meiji Restoration (around 1868) to Heian period (794-1185) so that the history and culture of Kyoto prior to the transfer of the capital to Tokyo can be seen at a glance.

Kyoto Handicraft Center has products that describe the three major festivals of Kyoto with Nishijin brocade.

 Nishijin Brocade Frame “The Three Major Festivals”
Nishijin brocade Folding screen Three Major Festivals

This is a gorgeous work of art depicting the three major festivals in Kyoto, the Aoi Festival, Gion Festival, and Jidai Festival. If you look closely, you can clearly see each of the people participating in the festival.

The front person is holding a flag with the words "Jidai Festival" written on it , followed by a procession of people playing flutes and drums.

There is a large number of people carrying the imperial carriage, which has been used to carry the emperor since ancient times. The roof is decorated with phoenixes which are known as a very auspicious imaginary bird. Also, you can see the gate to Heian Jingu Shrine behind them.

In this way, a festival scene is expressed as a single work of art using various colored threads.

Features and History of Nishijin Brocade

Nishijin brocade is a yarn-dyed textile produced in Nishijin, Kyoto. Nishijin refers to an area in the northwest of Kyoto. This area has been famous for its textiles for a long time and there are many weavers in the area. Nishijin brocade is characterized by various weaving techniques and small-quantity production. The patterns woven with beautifully dyed yarns are known as one of typical Japanese textiles. Yarn-dyeing is the process of creating patterns using yarns that have been dyed in advance. One of the appealing features of yarn-dyed fabrics is that they are stronger and wrinkle resistant compared to post-dyed fabrics, which is a common dyeing method.

The origins of Nishijin brocade date back to the 5th and 6th centuries when people from the continent settled in the area of present-day Kyoto and introduced sericulture and silk weaving techniques. In the 8th century, when the capital was moved to Heian-kyo (Kyoto), the Imperial court established an organization of craftsmen with silk weaving skills to produce high quality textiles. At first, the Imperial court was encouraged to produce textiles. However, as the times changed, this system gradually ceased to function, and the craftsmen became independent and started their own weaving business.

At the beginning of the 15th century, Onin War (1467-1477) started and Kyoto became a battleground. The war lasted for 11 years, and many craftsmen fled the war and the city was destroyed. After the war was over, they returned to Kyoto and resumed their weaving business. It was also possible to weave colored patterns and patterns using yarns that had been dyed in advance by introducing weaving techniques from the continent. It was around this time that the name "Nishijin" was born, and the area developed into a leading textile brand not only in Kyoto but also in Japan.

After that, the demand for kimono decreased as time went by, but in the 19th century, Jacquard looms were introduced from the West and advanced technology became available. Today, the high technology is not limited to traditional kimono and obi, but is also used in neckties, kimono accessories, Interior decorations such as wall hangings.

 Tradition and New Challenge of Nishijin Brocade

Textile techniques were introduced to Japan more than 1600 years ago and it became a new industry as Nishijin brocade in Kyoto. It was designated as a traditional Japanese craft in 1976.

Kyoto Handicraft Center sells not only frames and folding screens, but also obi sash, tea ceremony paper holder, etc.

Nishijin-Ori Textile Obi Sash “Gold & Green“

Nishijin-Ori Textile “Tea ceremony Paper Holder”

 Nishijin brocade is made through a number of processes to complete a single piece of fabric. We can't take our eyes off of Nishijin brocade, which will continue to take on new challenges as the times change while preserving tradition. Thank you for reading!


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